the philosophactivist

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On Being Bilingual

Ok. So I started to write this blog the other day on Cis supremacy in the LGBT movement and community during my short stay in Austin and never really got around to finishing or posting it because...well, I have a lot to say on it and it's not ready to be hatched... But...I will write a little bit about my frustrations with being an academic and an organizer. This is what I mean by being "bilingual" today. I speak the languages of both academia and the community. (Still working on fluency).A lot of times there are no "roots" to help translate. I'm fairly sure that there isn't anything equivalent to Latin that can provide some sort of shortcut to speaking or understanding both....besides our basic humanity.

It's difficult to be so very committed to the idea of what an education is...what education means when my eyes are open to other types of knowledge that are not given much legitimacy in the halls of higher ed. Sometimes I get caught up in believing that that degree that costs tens or hundreds of thousands is really all they market it to be. No matter how inapplicable many of those credits are. I fight internally against these elitist notions that have clouded my thoughts and peppered my vocabulary with a tinge of inaccessibility that just "comes with the territory." How else could academics relate to academics? Give lofty lectures and write and present on stuffy old papers? With each new phrase or label I can feel myself stepping further from my community and I ask myself...does it really have to be this way?

Me- the person who used to make trainings and curriculum for doctors about the importance of "plain language" I'm battling with myself not to write from such a distance. And also not to make assumptions about anyone that they will not understand the terminology I've been co-opted into using in this vanilla...oops...ivory tower. I don't know about speaking this whole other language. This academic-speak. I happens and I need it to move through the rooms of the tower and be taken seriously. Or something.  Without their idea of a good command of the English language I might be seen as *gasp* low brow. Without some kind of assimilation and acculturation...I could never fit in. I could never be heard past the first few sentences. Hm. Or maybe this is just an illusion. If so, many of my peers of color have confided in me that they feel the same...must be a mirage we're seeing.

On accessibility- yes, I believe it's important for everyone to be educated but...what is educated? Who determines what it means to be educated and what a good school is? Or even...what is considered a school.
I have a hard time reconciling within myself my wanting to support better access to more affordable colleges when the educational system at times continues this cycle that creates its own superstars to serve the  system...use its research...create vocabulary for its own use. And further perpetuates this type of knowledge as a means to education for education's sake. I'm just sayin'.

The academy is exclusive and began on that premise. Communities have fought to make it more inclusive so that we can have better opportunities...but I wonder now if those of us who support free schools, democratic schools, skillshares, and other ways of sharing local knowledge should be focusing our efforts more on creating another type of system instead of trying to fix a system that is fundamentally flawed in many, many ways- from it being exclusive and inaccessible to its limited application. From its skewed views on history and culture to its overemphasis on theory. Can it be overhauled or will we replace a dilapidated structure with a more viable one not built on what a group of old western white men (and later women) thought of as enlightenment and a "good" education. I mean, c'mon...we've seen the various ways that a monoculture has limited advancement of different fields and subjects from the sciences to art and philosophy.

So college...I love the environment. I love the spontaneous conversations that erupt on campuses. I love the access to thousands of books, classes and workshops. But I can see how this world might look to someone who doesn't value what these institutions have trained us to value. Just the other day I was talking with someone about the many ways that information/knowledge can be conveyed and how the written word in itself makes things inaccessible to people who have limited english proficiency or who are illiterate (we were speaking about Zines). These people are thought of as uneducated. They've lived  life where they've had to come up with creative ways to live in this world where the written word and English are the gold standard of communication. Imagine their world. Is their a bridge to both worlds? Am I standing on it? Am I quickly crossing to some side? Biding my time on the fringes of one or the other...looking co-optation square in the eye? Will I surrender to both/and ?Either/or?

For now I aim to be well-versed in both. To use all that I've learned in academia as a tool to create change in our community by working for civil rights for all and working toward a society that is inclusive of all its members and understanding of its history and the social movements comprising it.


  1. On being's a fine line and a struggle. There are aspects of academia that I enjoyed, but for the most part I didn't fit and the programs in which I was a student didn't create an environment for me to fit in. Sometimes, I wonder if I will ever get to a place where I'd be interested in pursuing a doctorate degree...then I think about my undergrad and graduate experiences versus the impact I can have in my community. Then I say damn the degree and focus on the impact because the two are not mutually exclusive. And if I did ever pursue the degree, I wouldn't tell anyone and I'd never, ever associate any acronyms with my name. Why? I hate the earned privilege and status we give to Black folk who obtain "advanced" degrees. In many my experience, a Black pHD simply means, "Congratulations, you wore the what have you done for me/us lately?"

    Some of us are fortunate to have learned a lot during college years. But for me, it has created a barrier between my family/community and me.

    Yes, we should remove ourselves from these institutions. They were not created for us. And we rarely use the "education" for the benefit of our communities/families. Because we'll do more to deepen their wallets, support their institutions/systems and work in their companies than we'll do for ourselves in a lifetime. So piss on the tower.

  2. Even though I do agree that academia is exclusive and built around language/discourses that others cannot penetrate into, I can't agree with the idea that academia is totally distant from the community. By that I mean, that many minorities use academia as a way to get in touch with their communities. A lot of people devote a PH.D to experiences with the community, to documenting the struggles of a community, and to letting the voices that are not heard, that do not make into academia, spill over into their dissertation. In other words, I think many people use academia as a tool for getting voices across, for building that bridge between a community and academics. But then again, I know lots of people would argue that academics use the problems that communities have and write about them only to get that prestige from having "published" something. I don't think that is true of all academics though. Lots of them happen to be organizers.

    As for the whole barrier that arises out of being someone in Higher Education helping others that are not, I think that is very class-based. I've always noted how my family and other Dominicans in general do not think much of higher degrees. They don't really see the point or motive behind it unless it means increasing your potential salary. White middle-class people rarely ask the question "why go get a Ph.D"? People expect them to go on to grad school and whatnot. Working people on the other hand, especially those of color are expected to do something that will make money for them. In other words, that barrier arises out of different values that classes have.